Alaska Bear Viewing
Alaska Bear Viewing Locations
Alaska is home to over 98 percent of our country’s brown bear population so it is no wonder that Alaska bear viewing is a popular visitor attraction. Bears are found in nearly every corner of Alaska. Adult black bears range in weight from 200 to 500 pounds while Alaska brown bears may grow as large as 1,500 pounds. Grizzlies and brown bears are part of the same Alaska bear family. The term brown bear is usually given to bears that reside in Alaska coastal areas, while grizzlies usually reside inland. Alaska brown bears tend to be larger than grizzlies due to a more abundant supply of protein to eat such as salmon. Viewing a bear in the wild’s of Alaska is a truly awesome experience, and often one of the highlights of a trip to Alaska.
Katmai National Park (Brooks Falls):
Katmai National Park is home to approximately 2,000 Alaskan grizzly bears. Brown bear and salmon are very active in Katmai. The number of brown bears has grown to more than 2,000. During the peak of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run each July, and during return of the “spawned out” salmon in September, forty to sixty bears congregate in Brooks Camp along the Brooks River and the Naknek Lake and Brooks Lake shorelines. Brown bears along the 480 mile Katmai Coast also enjoy clams, crabs, and an occasional whale carcass.
Cool Video of Denali National Park
A bear viewing platform is perched on the edge of Brooks Falls, where bears intercept the leaping salmon. Photographs of bears standing at the top of Brooks Falls with a salmon jumping into their mouths are common. For information on camping and getting to Brooks Camp contact: Katmai National Park, Box 7, King Salmon, AK 99613. (907) 243-5448. They can also give you information on tour operators and fishing guides. There is one lodging concession at Brooks Camp (Katmailand, Inc., (907) 243-5448).
Denali National Park:
Denali National Park is one of the most popular areas in Alaska to view bears in their natural habitat. Each year tens of thousands of Alaska visitors board buses to travel all or part of the 90 mile road that travels deep into Denali Park. While bear sightings in Denali are by no means a sure thing, most visitors do see bears in Denali, although sometimes at a distance.
Bears are often visible from the park road throughout the summer. Most shuttle bus tickets and park campground spaces can be reserved no more than 2 days in advance, in person only, at the park. A limited number are available in advance. Contact central reservations: (800) 622-7275 or Denali National Park, Box 9, Denali Park, AK 99755. (907) 683-2294.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge:
Kodiak Island has some of the biggest bears in Alaska. The Kodiak brown bear is considered the world’s largest carnivore. Although there are no developed viewing areas in the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, large numbers of bears congregate at the salmon streams from June through September. The refuge has public-use rustic cabins (no stove, plumbing or electricity) accessible by charter plane only. For more information contact Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, 1390 Buskin River Rd, Kodiak, AK 99615. (907) 487-2600. On nearby private land, commercial bear viewing trips are available. Contact Kodiak Wilderness Tours at 907-486-8101.
McNeil River Game Sanctuary:
McNeil River is Alaska’s most famous bear viewing area. A number of brown bears can be observed every year as they congregate at McNeil River Falls to feed on salmon. There are no commercial outfitters to this site; everyone must apply through a highly competitive State of Alaska lottery system (only about one in ten applicants wins the lottery each year).
The bear viewing season runs from mid-June through late August. Applications must be postmarked by March 1 of each year. You may also apply for”standby” slots in April. Lottery fees are $20 per person, and lottery winners will pay an additional $250 user fee. Successful applicants will spend 4 days camping at McNeil River. There is a campground area where visitors sleep (bring your own tent, food and gear) and a cook shed for food preparation and storage.
Click here to apply for a permit.
The local Tlingit know Admiralty Island as Kootz na Hoo, or”Fortress of the Bear.” Admiralty Island is a lush rainforest wilderness in the heart of Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. The 60,000-acre Stan Price Bear Sanctuary is prime habitat for brown bears as they feed on the salmon running up Pack Creek. Visitors will experience the luxuriant rainforests while marveling at the countless bald eagles and brown bears in the region.
Pack Creek runs through an open intertidal meadow before spilling into the ocean. An elevated sandy spit at the edge of the meadow is the official bear viewing area. There is also a beautiful one-mile trail through the rainforest to an elevated viewing platform above the creek. The Sanctuary allows a limited number of visitors to Pack Creek during the salmon runs from early July though August. The only access is via boat or floatplane. Juneau is the closest city. There are no facilities, phones or outhouses. Camping is not allowed at Pack Creek; however you may camp at Windfall Island just offshore of Pack Creek. Sea kayaks are available for rent.
You may apply for a lottery permit through the U.S. Forest Service at 907-586-8751 and go on your own (permit fee is $36/person and charter air transportation is approximately $200/person), or you may go with a commercial outfitter (Alaska Discovery, 800-586-1911; Wilderness Swift Charters, 907-463-3466; Fly-n-Fish Charters, 907-790-2120) who will provide permits, guides, and transportation.